Through The Other Side

The death of River­side’s gui­tarist could have ended the band. In­stead, they’re back with a new sound on an al­bum about grief, hope and sur­vival. Main­man Mar­iusz Duda tells Prog why they kept go­ing, and how Waste­land marks the start of an ex­cit­ing new chap

Prog - - Intro - Words: Dan­nii Leivers Im­ages: Oskar Szramka

Prog last caught up with Pol­ish prog­gers River­side al­most two years ago, dur­ing one of the most tu­mul­tuous pe­ri­ods of their ca­reer. The band were reel­ing from the death of their gui­tarist Pi­otr Grudzin´ski nine months be­fore, a com­plete shock that left them con­tem­plat­ing their fu­ture.

Back then, they had just com­pleted Eye Of The Sound­scape, a col­lec­tion of am­bi­ent, in­stru­men­tal deep cuts that had al­lowed them to play around with elec­tronic in­flu­ences. It was a move in keep­ing with their pro­gres­sive mind­set and will­ing­ness to push the bound­aries of their own sound. Yet it was also the first al­bum they had recorded with­out Grudzin´ski, and as such, it also felt like a di­ver­sion rather than a new di­rec­tion; a plas­ter placed over an open wound while the band bat­tled their pain and fig­ured out what the hell they were go­ing to do next.

Now, vo­cal­ist, bas­sist, main com­poser and band­leader Mar­iusz Duda is speak­ing to us from a very dif­fer­ent place. Af­ter Grudzin´ski’s death he im­me­di­ately threw him­self into work. Hol­ing up in the War­saw stu­dio he calls a sec­ond home, just a seven-minute walk from his house, he recorded three al­bums on the trot. Two were with his side project Lu­natic Soul – 2017’s Frac­tured and 2018’s Un­der The Frag­mented Sky – and the third and most re­cent was River­side’s sev­enth stu­dio record, Waste­land.

It’s the lat­ter al­bum we’re here to talk about to­day, as well as the band’s de­ci­sion to soldier on as a trio and what it was like to record mu­sic with­out Grudzin´ski for the first time.

“I had a chance to get used to it be­cause I was in the stu­dio all the time,” says Duda. “Waste­land was like the third al­bum in a row dur­ing one year for me. I was do­ing this con­stantly. The harder thing was when we had to fin­ish Eye Of The Sound­scape – that was re­ally hard. Pi­otr’s death was the end of the world for us. We’re a dif­fer­ent band now but we’re still River­side. We lost one voice but the main core stayed the same. We miss him but we also need to move on.”

Did they con­sider break­ing up the band at any point?

“Pi­otr’s death was the end of the world for us. We’re a dif­fer­ent band now but we’re still River­side. We miss him but

we also need to move on.”

“Yes,” Duda replies. “When Pi­otr died I thought maybe it’s time to say: ‘This is the end of River­side. I should fo­cus on Lu­natic Soul and al­bums un­der my own name.’ But af­ter a few months I re­alised I’d put so much en­ergy and my pri­vate life into this. I think we still have lots of ideas and mu­sic to play.

“It was hard when we tweeted a pic­ture of the three of us and some­one put the icon with the tear. It’s not re­ally help­ful when some­one al­ways tries to re­mind us: ‘I’m so sorry for what hap­pened.’ We know what hap­pened and that was the end of the world. We don’t want to talk about the fact we lost our friend – we just want to talk about how to sur­vive and how to move on. Waste­land is a new chap­ter for us.”

Duda iden­ti­fies him­self as a sto­ry­teller whose lyrics cre­ate “the­mat­i­cal” rather than con­cept al­bums. For in­stance, on 2013’s

Shrine Of New Gen­er­a­tion Slaves he ex­plored mod­ern slavery, while 2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Ma­chine fo­cused on “love and mem­o­ries”. On Waste­land, he’s chan­nelled the earth-shat­ter­ing pain that en­gulfed him and his band­mates af­ter Grudzin´ski’s death, as well as draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Cor­mac Mc­Carthy’s 2006 novel The Road and the Fall­out videogame se­ries, to cre­ate lyri­cal im­agery of a de­cayed and crum­bling post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world.

It rep­re­sents a band re­build­ing their lives from ground zero. The first line of al­bum opener The Day Af­ter con­tem­plates fate and the fragility of life: ‘What if it’s not meant to be? What if some­one has made a mis­take?’

“I usu­ally try to write sto­ries that are con­nected with my life but Waste­land is a re­flec­tion about where we are right now as a band,” says Duda. “That’s what’s go­ing on with all these post-apoc­a­lyp­tic sto­ries

– I imag­ined peo­ple who sur­vived af­ter the end of the world and they’re just try­ing to move on in spite of the cir­cum­stances. But read­ing the lyrics and lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic, I think peo­ple will hear other things and read be­tween the lines.

“For some peo­ple it will be the al­bum about the death of our gui­tar player. For other peo­ple it will be the al­bum about refugees, war and pol­i­tics. For oth­ers it will be the story about the band who tried to sur­vive.”

River­side’s last two re­leases – Eye Of The

Sound­scape and Love,

Fear And The Time

Ma­chine – were both am­bi­ent wan­der­ings through the lighter, more wa­ter­colour tex­tures that ex­ist in the River­side pal­ette. Un­sur­pris­ingly, fol­low­ing the most chal­leng­ing months of their ca­reer, a dose of heav­i­ness has found its way back into the band’s mu­sic. Al­though Duda is keen to spot­light each tum­bling facet of the band’s sound on Waste­land, more metal­lic lean­ings can be heard in the crunchy riffs of Acid Rain and Vale Of Tears that are rem­i­nis­cent of the group’s early work.

“For me, River­side is kind of di­vided: the old River­side and the new River­side,” Duda ex­plains. “The old River­side is con­nected with our first four al­bums: full of great ideas, but the pro­duc­tion and sound were, let’s be hon­est, too un­der­ground for me. With Shrine Of New Gen­er­a­tion Slaves, I think we started to sound bet­ter. With this one I just wanted to keep this pro­duc­tion as good as Love, Fear And The Time Ma­chine and Shrine Of New Gen­er­a­tion Slaves, but also add some­thing from the pre­vi­ous decade, a touch of this un­der­ground sound.

“I think what’s re­ally spe­cial now is the gui­tar,” he con­tin­ues. “I con­nected the sound of dis­torted bass with the sound of dis­torted gui­tar and thanks to that, we achieved some­thing rusty and also re­ally orig­i­nal. Some­thing be­tween metal, stoner rock and prog rock.

“If some­one wanted to know my main in­spi­ra­tion, I would say Peter Gabriel, be­cause he al­ways had a very nice con­nec­tion be­tween the rhythm and the melodies. For me it’s al­ways con­nected with emo­tions and hearts first and fore­most, and this is much more pro­gres­sive than bands who sound sim­i­lar to Pink Floyd, for in­stance. In Waste­land we’ve recorded a re­ally pro­gres­sive al­bum, but in the wider sense. When some­one asks what’s prog for me, I al­ways say it’s push­ing bound­aries, and we pushed a lot of bound­aries this time.” Al­though River­side brought in their close friend

Ma­ciej Meller to play gui­tar dur­ing their re­cent live shows, in the stu­dio, Duda and his band­mates – key­boardist Michał Ła­paj and drum­mer Pi­otr Kozier­adzki – re­treated back to be­ing a trio, with Duda tak­ing over the bulk of gui­tar re­spon­si­bil­i­ties him­self. It’s an ar­range­ment that’s un­likely to change any time soon, with the band re­luc­tant to re­place Grudzin´ski on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

“For now it works,” says Duda firmly. “When Gen­e­sis be­came a trio, Ch­ester Thomp­son and Daryl Stuer­mer joined the band and that was the live ver­sion of Gen­e­sis. It was the same sit­u­a­tion with John Wes­ley and Por­cu­pine Tree. For now we don’t think we need to hire a gui­tar player if the mu­sic is good and the emo­tions are well bal­anced. And it’s not be­cause I want to be the leader and play on ev­ery­thing. I’d love to bring River­side back as a quar­tet but it takes time and it will hap­pen nat­u­rally.”

The tracks on Waste­land are in­ter­linked by poignancy, sad­ness and an air of fi­nal­ity. How­ever, among that dark­ness, rich, bright so­los spi­ral de­fi­antly up­wards, cou­pled with a sense of hope that per­me­ates bluer skies. In the lead-up to the al­bum’s re­lease, Duda teased that it would be an “epic, mul­ti­di­men­sional, po­etic and very deep al­bum. Per­haps of the once-in-a-life­time kind.”

In­deed, there’s a real sense that the band have turned a cor­ner, emerg­ing from a long, black tun­nel into the light. Ul­ti­mately, this rep­re­sents a line in the sand for them. It’s the al­bum they needed to make in or­der to move on, and one that gazes wist­fully back while look­ing res­o­lutely for­ward. How does it feel start­ing a new chap­ter? Over­whelm­ing? Nerve-wrack­ing?

“No, it’s good,” says Duda. “This is the end of mourn­ing, the end of sad things. We’ve started a new life and we feel lots of strength within and sup­port from our fans. We feel ex­cited about the new chap­ter.

“I know peo­ple will still look at us like, ‘Oh my God, River­side ended with the death of Pi­otr – why would they want to con­tinue un­der the River­side name?’ Well, the main core has stayed the same, we are River­side and we haven’t said our last word yet. With Waste­land and our fu­ture al­bums, we’ll prove that. I’m ex­cited for the things that are wait­ing for us.”

Waste­land is out on Septem­ber 28 via In­sid­eOut. See www.river­side­ for more in­for­ma­tion.

“For some peo­ple it will be the al­bum about the death of our gui­tar player.

For other peo­ple it will be about refugees, war and pol­i­tics. For oth­ers it will be the story about the band who tried to sur­vive.”

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